How new Yankees have brought the 'Dawgs' out

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NEW YORK -- Alex Verdugo thoroughly enjoyed his first home run in pinstripes at Yankee Stadium earlier this month. He swatted the sweeper from Miami Marlins starter A.J. Puk, falling to one knee, and unhurriedly observed as the ball carried over the short porch in right field. He relished the moment with one of his typical leisurely home run trots. Then the barking started.

The canine noises began with Verdugo's high-pitched yelping as he jogged off the field. Think Chihuahua. They grew deeper as he high-fived teammates through the dugout -- festive, full-throated woofs from Verdugo & Co., like a pack of Dobermans.

"Hey, man, who doesn't like to bark, right?" Verdugo said after the game, wearing a "Bronx Dawgs" T-shirt.

Barking has become the 2024 New York Yankees' preferred form of celebration. The hound movement was birthed during the club's galvanizing four-game series sweep of the Astros in Houston to launch the season. It has continued through the team's American League-best 13-6 start without ace Gerrit Cole.

The barking represents a shift for a historically buttoned-up franchise. Winning games always boosts vibes, but there's a different spirit, a looseness, for this group after a miserable 2023 season.

"I'm always a believer, [with] 162 games in 180 days, stretch that out even further over spring training, it's a grind," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "And I want guys that are energy givers, not energy suckers, in that room. And that can look a lot of different ways."

Three newcomers -- Verdugo, Juan Soto, and Marcus Stroman -- have been central energy givers, each with their own verve and swagger. Verdugo barks and pumps his chest. Soto shuffles and ruffles pitchers. Stroman, once every five days, likes to solicit noise from the crowd when he's throwing up zeroes.

"[They] have brought an energy that, you know, on certain days is a little shot in the arm," Boone said. "When people are walking in that room and bringing something to the table every day, I think it helps set the tone."

The Yankees didn't acquire those three players for their vibes. General manager Brian Cashman sought to add left-handed threats to a right-handed-heavy lineup during the offseason. Soto is one of the best hitters in the world. Verdugo is a strong defender with a valuable ability to make contact. Both were acquired via trades. Stroman was signed to bolster the rotation behind Cole.

Each of the three prominent newcomers has said their transition to the Yankees was seamless. Stroman grew up on Long Island. Soto is a Dominican superstar in New York City, home to the largest Dominican population outside the Dominican Republic. Verdugo? Well, his fit wasn't as obvious. Verdugo grew up in Arizona, debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was a villain at Yankee Stadium playing for the rival Boston Red Sox over the past four seasons.

The trio's vigor hasn't gone unnoticed in the locker room.

"I think that's what is felt the most here in the clubhouse," Yankees utilityman Oswaldo Cabrera said in Spanish. "Verdugo, he's one of the more energetic people I've played with. Stroman has an energy all day, a will to win all the time.

"And, obviously, Soto, who has that sazón Latino. He plays the game with passion. I think it's been really important. You 100% feel it."

Pitcher Nestor Cortés credited Aaron Judge, now in his second season as team captain, with fostering a family atmosphere in the clubhouse. Cortés, a mainstay in the Yankees' rotation since 2021, said that hasn't changed from previous years, but he noted the acquisitions add a different dynamic.

"I would say they do bring some type of edge," Cortés said. "Some type of F-you into play, which is what we want to bring here."

Said Soto: "We all feel like a family right now."

That feeling has extended past the clubhouse into the stands. Fans in the Bronx used to curse at Verdugo. In 2021, one of them hit him in the back with a ball in left field. Now, they bark at him from those same seats, reciprocating the energy he and the Yankees have brought out of the gate.

"It's a lot of fun, man," Verdugo said. "They're running with it, and we love it."